Crossing an Uneven Terrain: Capital, Labor, and State Power in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

The U.S.-Mexico border is a region of overlapping contact zones, an interstitial space where economic, political, social, cultural, and individual exchanges occur across the international boundary on a daily basis. Amid this personal and communal fluidity, however, the border also exists as an entity fixed by diplomatic treaty, militarization, and police enforcement as government agencies erect physical barriers for the abstract lines drawn across this area of North America. While state surveillance and regulation seek to make the region divisible, it is a project contested by the millions of undocumented immigrants, and others, who regularly defy its reductive processes. How the border is viewed and the vantage point from which it is observed are important subjective factors in a discussion of this area. In many ways, for the people who actually live in the borderlands, the national debate emanating from Washington and Mexico City can often appear astoundingly detached from the exigencies of everyday life. Continue reading

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UTEP Borderlands Conference Call For Papers EXTENDED


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Book Review: Riding Lucifer’s Line

Riding Lucifer’s Line. Ranger Deaths along the Texas-Mexico Border. By Bob Alexander. (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2013. Pp. xxvi +404. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95 hardback)


Much can be discerned about any organization through its members or employees, in this case the Texas Rangers. Personal histories provide unique insights that so often supplement the more mundane but nonetheless necessary bureaucratic and institutional overlay. In the case of Bob Alexander’s Riding Lucifer’s Line, the book’s subtitle Ranger Deaths along the Texas-Mexico Border provides an intimate insight into the unique personal histories that he will detail in the book. The author also describes the subtitle as “purposefully unambiguous.” Continue reading

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Borderlands History Interview Project Presents Dr. Ernesto Chávez

The Borderlands History Interview Project (BHIP) will showcase the voices of respected historians in our field to discuss their current projects and views on the future of borderlands history. We’re excited about this new venture and look forward to your comments!

While at the 2015 American Historical Association conference in New York City earlier this month, I was able to sit down with Dr. Ernesto Chávez, Associate Professor at the University of Texas, El Paso, to discuss his latest project and his take on borderlands history. He graciously accepted to be the first interviewee in our BHIP series, highlighting scholars who are changing and challenging our field. We nestled into the Hilton hotel conference room chairs, and trying not to disturb the other historians gathered charging their phones and frantically answering emails, we began our interview about his life, his new project, and the history and future of borderlands.
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Call for Book/Article Titles for Borderlands History Blog Historiography

Calling all BHB followers: As the 2015 school year begins, we here at the Blog are looking to update the page’s historiography sections and we need your help. What 2013/2014 texts and articles do you feel should be included on our page? As always, we welcome interdisciplinary and comparative borderlands submissions. Submit your favorite/relevant works on Facebook, Twitter, or at and we will add them to the Blog. If you have posted before you can just add them to the pertinent sections. Happy New Year!

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B/orders: Berlin, Borders, and the Disparate Value of Life

Recently, 25 years after Gorbachev, Reagan, John Paul II, Harald Jaeger, or, alternatively, David Hasselhoff, brought down the Berlin Wall, Germans flocked to the capital and the East Side Gallery to mark the occasion. Many news outlets and blogs have discussed the festivities, culminating with the symbolic release of glowing balloons shortly after midnight on Monday morning of November 10th, but few have acknowledged the paradoxes and inequalities that persist.  While attending the Berlin Border Seminar, organized by Martin Barthel (Comparative Research Network), I witnessed some of the ways these dissonances seep through narratives of progress, pan-Europeanism, and tourist-friendly order. I also had the pleasure to hear about border-related research happening in Europe, including James W. Scott‘s thoughts on the dynamic, ongoing process of bordering and re-bordering in urban spaces in cities such as Berlin.  (Here are links to the conference schedule: Berlin Border Seminar Booklet 41114  and BBS Errata.)

As I made my way to the Armony hotel on the morning of Saturday, the 8th of November, I walked along the former line of the western wall (it was actually a strip, not a single wall).  While it would have been a lofty task to damage all or most of the thousands of balloons, its clear that a significant number had been destroyed.  Some of the thin, black posts were knocked over or bent, and other balloons were simply popped, leaving their stands holding limp blobs off lifeless latex.  More importantly, some of the remaining balloons had been repurposed to display radical messages. (See photos below.)  One, for instance, had two boxes, beside “Berlin wall” and “European Wall,” with the first selected with an approving “X.”  Tellingly, most of the balloons had been repaired or replaced by the following morning. Continue reading

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B/orders: Interview with Ms. Petra Weber

This interview was conducted on November 3, 2014 in the International Office of the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany, on the border with Slubice, Poland. In this interview, Ms. Weber discusses the role of the International Office in Viadrina’s internationalization. She also provides insight into the recent history of the community, the ERASMUS program, practical aspects of European de-bordering and university administration, and the evolving mission of the Viadrina. This interview has been edited for readability.

J. Aaron Waggoner: Ms. Petra Weber, could you please start by telling me a little bit about your department?

Petra Weber: I think the setup of the International Office of the Viadrina is a bit unusual, because it has areas which are not commonly placed within international offices in Germany. Our standard, our call word, is really the exchange programs. We also have responsibilities like international offices in the states do, for example, for recruitment of international students, but also advising and taking care of incoming degree-seeking students. We are also working in the area of recognition of credentials for two faculties of the Viadrina, Business Administration and Cultural Sciences. Then we have a number of projects, which could be partly research, but sometimes are also structural projects. For example, we are dealing with projects towards double degree programs with the faculties where sometimes we can negotiate the whole project on our own. Basically, for the Business faculty we have that responsibility, which is quite unusual, but we do the same thing for all faculties in terms of the advising for the logistics and sometimes also about the setup of the programs… We have at the moment, I think, nineteen double degrees in place, which is a very high number, also in comparison to some other larger universities in Germany. We have a benchmarking with some of the really big institutions, for example Dresden and Vienna. And Vienna has not nearly the number of double degrees we have.

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Call for Papers: The State in/of Borderlands History

The State in/of Borderlands History
University of Texas at El Paso
El Paso, Texas

November 6-7, 2015
Keynote Speaker: Kelly Lytle Hernandez (UCLA), author of Migra!: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol


The Department of History at the University of Texas at El Paso announces the conference, “The State in/of Borderlands History,” to be held November 6-7, 2015. Although the state has been a defining and an often ominous presence in the history of the Mexico-U.S. Borderlands, the systematic and explicit study of the state has been rare in Borderlands historiography. While historians of the U.S. have recently devoted increased attention to the state, already a well-established focus of Mexicanists, social and cultural history has largely shaped the field of Borderlands history. Current scholarship on transnationalism and the history of empire has also challenged the “natural” character of the nation-state.

Yet, beginning in the colonial period, and in fact before, a variety of state structures have shaped human existence in the region. Those living in and traveling through the borderlands have encountered and engaged with the state through forced labor in armies, mines and missions, the collection of taxes, and military action as well as immigration control, border policing, education and public health regimes. In these and other arenas, state structures–national, local, indigenous, and/or transnational–have made themselves present in borderlanders’ lives and, in turn, been challenged and shaped by them. Borderlands, geographical and conceptual, can serve as a critical location for a new approach to understanding state formation and state power.

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Conference Notes: Western Historical Association 2014

Newport Beach Marriott Bayview, fountain on the ground floor.

Newport Beach Marriott Bayview, fountain on the ground floor.

It felt like everyone I know was on their way to the Western Historical Association (WHA) in Newport Beach this year. After making sure some of my colleagues were confirmed on the program, I took a peak at its content. The program read like a “who’s who” of the most exciting junior and senior scholars in the field of borderlands history. I booked a room at the Marriot and made a beeline for SoCal. Before I continue, I should mention I am a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas, El Paso (UTEP). Our Borderlands Ph.D. program made a big showing at the conference (someone made an off the cuff remark stating we were the new SMU), and I made every attempt to visit those panels. However, I did manage to check out a few panels not featuring UTEP students. Here is a brief analysis of my experience at the WHA Conference 2014.

Whizzing down highway 5 on Wednesday (I live in the Bay Area these days) and coming face to face with L.A. traffic, I knew I would not make it to see the first panel organized by the Coalition for Western Women’s History Roundtable entitled “Women Crossing Borders.” Luckily at the opening reception that evening, I bumped into one of the presenters on the panel John McKiernan-González. We spoke briefly about the panel and Precarious Prescriptions: Contested Histories of Health and Race in North America, a new book he edited with Laurie Green and Martin Summers. Other scholars in attendance that evening were Eric Meeks, Sam Truett, as well as incoming President of the WHA Elizabeth (Betsy) Jameson. Seeing so many borderlands historians in one place was not only exciting, but helped to set the tone for the rest of conference. Continue reading

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B/orders: Interview with Dr. Andrea Meissner

The following interview was conducted on Thursday, October 23 in the offices of B/orders in Motion at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt(Oder). Here, I talk with Dr. Andrea Meissner about the center, its mission and activities, and a fellowship opportunity for graduating MA students or early PhD students. Blogs in progress include a description of Viadrina’s international demographic and an exploration of the echoes and memory of the German Democratic Republic, whose main local offices are now occupied by the university. You can listen to the interview here.

Aaron Waggoner: Hello, my name in Aaron Waggoner, and today I’m with Dr. Andrea Meissner in the offices of the Viadrina Centre B/orders in Motion at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) on the border with Słubice, Poland. Dr. Meissner, so please tell me a little about yourself and your current position.

Andrea Meissner: I am the Scientific Coordinator of the Viadrina Center B/orders in Motion which is basically its manager. And from my scientific background I’m a historian, and I’ve been dealing with, in my dissertation, with nation building in Germany and Austria, so there are a lot of cross border processes. That’s something that connects me to the issues we are dealing with here.

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